The COVID-19 pandemic is raging on and Americans are continuing to take measures to protect themselves. The recommendation is to stay at home as much as possible (except when safely exercising outdoors), but people still have questions about a daily need: food. How can we get food, prepare food, and eat it safely during the pandemic?
As of June, the Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree that “Currently, there is no evidence of food or food packaging being associated with transmission of COVID-19.”,, However, how you get your food also affects your risk.
Though food itself may have little risk of fostering the spread of COVID-19, disease risk can increase depending on how food is shopped for, prepared, and delivered. These are some ways to keep yourself and your food safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Grocery Store
To reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, supermarkets have implemented many precautions. Examples include requiring or recommending masks and gloves, erecting plexiglass barriers at checkouts, reducing the number of shoppers allowed in the store, and disinfecting shopping carts more often.
A group of experts ranked grocery shopping as having a risk of 3 out of 10. Risk can increase if customers or employees are not following safety protocols. You can help protect yourself with more precautions. The FDA recommends wearing your mask and gloves, cleaning your cart before you use it, washing reusable bags in between purchases, staying at least 6 feet away from other shoppers in the aisles and while waiting in line. Shopping in the morning, when fewer people are in stores, makes it easier to maintain social distance.
Safely Preparing Produce and Other Groceries
The FDA does not list any special measures to protect against COVID-19, but does suggest following standard food safety guidelines. They include:
- Rinsing fruits and vegetables with tap water, and scrubbing firm produce with a produce brush.
- Cleaning lids before opening canned goods.
- Placing frozen or refrigerated items away within 2 hours of buying them.
- Separating raw meats and eggs away from other foods, and cooking them before eating them.
The CDC recommends using grocery delivery services when possible. They can help slow the spread of COVID-19 by having fewer people in stores and using online payment options, which require no contact. The USDA suggests using contactless delivery, such as having the driver leave the groceries on the front step or porch, or lobby, rather than handing them to you at the door. Washing your hands or using sanitizer after taking in your groceries is another precaution.
Takeout and Delivery
The panel of infectious disease experts agreed that ordering takeout and delivery from a restaurant are low-risk activities. The preferred options are contactless delivery, such as with groceries, and contactless curbside pickup, in which a staff member from the restaurant places the food in your open trunk.
If you need to enter the restaurant to pick up your food, paying online in advance avoids the need to handle cash or credit cards. Ideally, go during off hours or go in and out as quickly as possible. That can be easier if you call when you are ready to enter the restaurant to ask for your meal to be ready to take away. Face coverings are also recommended.
Eating at restaurants is decidedly riskier than grocery shopping or ordering takeout or delivery. Dining in was given a risk factor score of 6 by the experts, while eating outside had a score of 4.
The experts agreed that the potential for breathing recirculated air while inside the restaurant is a major factor contributing to the increased risk. Whether dining in or out, another problem is the potentially close vicinity to other diners who are not in your party.
If you choose to eat at a restaurant, best practices include staying outside the entire time: from waiting to be seated to eating. Wearing a mask when not at your table is also recommended. These are some other safety measures to watch for.
- Hand sanitizer on every table.
- Foot pedal (hands-free) trash cans.
- Disinfectant wipes.
- Signs promoting behaviors to prevent the spread of germs.
A little common sense can help you choose a restaurant. For example, it is probably not worth the risk if you notice that servers are not wearing face coverings, tables are spaced less than 6 feet apart, or the restaurant seems overcrowded. In some regions, a list of restaurants that have experienced at least 1 case of COVID-19 among staff is available.
Staying safe during the pandemic is quite a task, but it appears that there are plenty of safe ways to continue enjoying the foods you love. When shopping for, preparing, and eating food, maintaining good hygiene and following social distancing and other protective guidelines can dramatically lower your risk.